Comments by Kirk Schneider, PhD

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  • I appreciate all the comments, but feel moved to respond to Richard about the polarized mind being too individualistic. I don’t see it that way, I see it as cutting across both individual and collective. It’s really the question of whether people are more fear-driven or deliberative-reflective (which certainly can and does often include fear-based aspects but also more affirmative, choice-driven aspects). It’s the difference between reaction and response in my view. If the oppressed have absolutely nothing in common with their oppressors I see the potential recipe for what we saw in The Terror of the French Revolution or in Stalinist Russia or Maoist China. Reversals of oppression can be just as oppressive as those who originally oppressed, as the Greeks too found out when their hubris was avenged by nemesis. That said, there is nothing simple about all this and I agree that extreme measures need to be taken at times to reverse oppressive situations; the question is again, to what degree are those extremes conscious and choice-driven and affirming of a sustainable vision, or to what degree are they fear and panic-driven–more about avenging an enemy than working toward a humane vision. See The Polarized Mind if you’re interested in further elaboration, and again I’m much appreciative of your comment.
    Also, with LavenderSage’s remark about fear of death not being universal, I think the verdict is not yet clear, particularly if we’re speaking of people bent on destruction and degradation of others. As Terror Management theory has shown (see my full article in the J. of Humanistic Psychology), an individual or group (and this seems to be true cross-culturally) can profess not to fear death but ironically what seems to drive them to destructive acts–even to to the point of sacrificing their own bodies–is an attempt to deny death or at a more profound level the complex symbol of death, i.e., the sense of insignificance, of not mattering, of being obliterated in the eyes of the world. And so as a consequence of this death denial they will inflate themselves and degrade others, even to the point of dying for their death-denying cause. Or, on the other hand (lacking the means or disposition to defy death anxiety) they will constrict themselves and collapse in some form of despair. Remember, again, we are speaking of people who become polarized as with any or all of us at given points of our lives, the question is to what extent do we fear this not counting and groundlessness and to what extent can we come to terms with it, coexist with it and perhaps even see the beauty and liberation of it. (Again I refer you to the full JHP article referred to above or even better “The Polarized Mind” and “Spirituality of Awe” for elaborations). Also, a great work on Terror Management Theory is “Meaning, Mortality and Choice: The Social Psychology of Existential Concerns” (APA Press).

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